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Three more witnesses for Coroner’s inquest

Three more witnesses  for Coroner’s inquest

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Approximately three more witnesses, including a Meteorologist from the Meteorological office, a person from the Planning Unit and the investigating officer, are expected to take the witness stand to give testimony in a Coroner’s Inquest into the unnatural death of Patsy Bowman.{{more}}

Bowman, 67, was crushed to death on September 19, 2008 in the Ratho Mill area, after a retaining wall owned by businessman Alex Jack, smashed her vehicle.

The inquest, which started on Monday, May 25, heard evidence from Bowman’s husband, Alban Bowman, Howie Prince, Director for the National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO), Civil Engineer, Glenford Stewart, contractor, Josiah David, and owner of the wall, Alex Jack.

Some interesting facts came out of the Inquest, which had to be halted after two days of hearing so that the prosecution could call other witnesses. The case resumes on June 17, 2009.

Glenford Stewart of Stewart Engineering Limited said that Jack hired his company in 1994 to design a modified gravity retaining wall at his property. He noted that the plan was approved the following year and work commenced on the project soon thereafter. He noted that when he first did the plan, he designed it only for the purposes of a retaining wall of only 20 feet. However, an additional nine feet had to be added for the purpose of putting a lawn in place. This was not in the original plan.

Upon completion of the wall nearly five years later, the engineer of over 30 years said that he inspected the wall and was satisfied with the final product. He, however, stated that he was not at all surprised that a wall which was supposed to last over 50 years had collapsed after only a decade.

Stewart, in his lengthy evidence, explained that rainfall intensity and duration exceeded the magnitude of what would occur once every 25 years, which resulted in the collapse of the wall. Stating that it was quite a “phenomenon” that the wall collapsed, Stewart said that the collapse occurred because of rainfall for three to four days prior the incident.

Stewart noted that the wall was built to international standards and was on solid footing, with a proper drainage system.

Coroner, Chief Magistrate Sonya Young, asked Stewart if he knew that such a thing could happen, shouldn’t an alarm have been raised? Stewart replied: “Because of the intensity of the rain, there was a land slippage, but it was still safe to build the wall.” Relating that he had done several check-ups on the job from time to time, Stewart conceded that there could be a possibility that he may have missed something that the workmen did that was not in accordance with his instructions.

An elderly Josiah David, one of the contractors who Jack hired to build the wall, said that Jack was the one who gave him all the instructions on how to go about constructing the wall. David, who had trouble remembering his birth year and the time the wall was built, told he court he used his common sense to make some of the measurements. He noted that it was the first time he had ever built a wall consisting of steel and that most of the walls he built before were just made with concrete and stone.

Owner of the wall Alex Jack indicated that the wall was about 29 feet in height. He added that it was constructed from stone, concrete, steel and blocks. Over the five-year period, during which the wall was constructed, Jack said that approximately six contractors were used because the wall was difficult to construct as it was being built next to the main road. He also mentioned that Stewart gave him the instructions on how to proceed with construction. “I took instructions from the engineer.” Jack stated.

Based on the engineer’s instructions, the wall was drained by means of a box drain and weepers, which protruded from the wall. He explained that the water from the box drain had five different release points, which collected the water and ran them through PVC pipes to the public drain. One witness, however, stated that she never saw water coming from the weepers, but from time to time, water from the pipe would form a puddle right next to the road.

Representing Jack in the matter, Lawyer Samuel Commissiong, under cross-examination, asked Jack if Stewart did routine check-ups while the wall was being constructed and Jack replied, “He came on site from time to time to ensure that his instructions were going according to plan.”

Representing the estate of Bowman, Counsel Patina Knights said that it was strange that Jack, a man who was not a qualified contractor, was giving instructions to contractors on how to carry out the job. Knights also put into question the credibility of the design, which Jack and Stewart said were approved by the Planning Unit.

NEMO’S director, Howie Prince stated that collapse of the retaining wall was associated with a period of prolonged rainfall that had been falling extensively few days prior the incident. He said that 90 millimeters of rain was recorded by the Meterological Office. A total of 85 reports were also recorded, including 37 landslides, 10 of which were roadblocks. He said that no word was given to the organisation about the possibility of someone being buried under the rubble until he received a call from Senator Julian Francis. It was then that the normal clearing of the road was upgraded to a search and rescue mission.

Under cross-examination, Prince stated that even two inches of rainfall in a 24-hour period may or may not provide land slippage in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

A post mortem report read out in court by Consultant Surgical Pathologist at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital, Dr Ronald Child, indicated that Bowman died as a result of traumatic asphyxia due to the crushing of the vehicle.

Magistrate Young also requested that visits be made to the site and to have the police photographer present in court on the next occasion to produce the pictures that were taken on the day of the incident.(KW)

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